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Mothers' Influence on Teen Sex: Connections that Promote Postponing Sexual Intercourse

Original article authored by: Robert Blum

This month's research summary is reprinted with permission from the Kaiser Daily Reproductive Report. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at: www.kaisernetwork.org/dailyreports/repro.

The Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by the Advisory Board Company.


Teens' Closeness with Their Mothers Linked to Delay in Initiation of Sexual Activity, Study Says

Teenagers who have close relationships with their mothers are more likely to delay the onset of sexual intercourse than teens who are not close to their mothers, according to a report published in the September 2002 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, the Washington Post reports (Sessions Stepp, Washington Post, 9/5).

The findings come from two University of Minnesota studies involving data gathered from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. One study examined 3,322 boys and girls in eighth through 11th grades, while the second looked at a sample of 2,006 14- and 15-year-olds. All participants in the two studies had never had sexual intercourse at the beginning of the study period. Researchers evaluated the associations between initiation of sexual intercourse, teens' perceived relationship with their mothers and mothers' perception of whether their children were sexually active.

The authors noted that they focused on teens' relationships with their mothers rather than fathers because the majority of parents who responded to the survey were mothers, although they added that previous studies have shown that mothers tend to have a greater influence than fathers on teens' sexual decision-making.

The following are among the study findings: Eighth- and ninth-grade teens who reported having a close relationship with their mothers were more likely to delay the onset of sexual intercourse. Among 10th- and 11th-grade students, boys who reported having a close relationship with their mothers were more likely to delay the onset of sexual intercourse, but there was no link between a close mother-teen relationship and the onset of sexual activity among girls in this age group.

Both boys and girls in grades 8 through 11 who perceived that their mothers "strongly" disapproved of them having sex were more likely to delay sexual intercourse.

Among teens in 8th through 11th grades, 30% of girls and 45% of boys whose mothers "strongly" disapproved of sexual activity did not accurately perceive such disapproval.

Among students in 8th through 11th grades who had had sexual intercourse, 50% of the mothers of these students were not aware that their children were sexually active.

Among mothers of 14- and 15-year-olds, 48% said that they had discussed birth control with their sons "a moderate amount" or "a great deal," and 52% reported that they had discussed birth control with their daughters to a similar extent. However, mothers of 14- or 15-year-old sons were more likely to have recommended a specific form of birth control than mothers of girls in that age group. The extent to which mothers discussed sex or birth control was not linked with onset of sexual activity among the 14- or 15-year-old participants.

There was no link between parents' discussion of the negative consequences of sexual activity, such as early pregnancy, and the onset of teen sexual activity among teens in the 8th- to 11th-grade group ("Mothers' Influence on Teen Sex: Connections That Promote Postponing Sexual Intercourse," September 2002).

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Conclusions

The researchers concluded that the strength of relationships between parents and teens — not simply discussions about sex — are the key to delaying the onset of teen sexual activity. "A teen's relationship with [his or her] mother matters. It differs for boys and girls, but it matters," Robert Blum, a study co-author and director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Adolescent Health and Development, said yesterday during a press conference.

Noting that many teen study participants did not accurately perceive their parents' opinions about sex, Blum said that parents must communicate and demonstrate their values and beliefs regarding sex during day-to-day life, not just during discussions with their children. He stated that teens' perception of their parents' views on education are also important, because children who believed that their mothers placed a high importance on education were more likely to delay initial sexual activity (Meredith McGroarty, Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 9/5).

But Blum said that the study did not examine why many mothers were unaware that their children were sexually active. "Perhaps it's just because they don't want to know. Perhaps they're not so involved in the lives of their teens. We just don't know," he said. (Schemo, New York Times, 9/5)

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Strategies for Parents

Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, outlined several activities that parents can use to help convey their feelings about sex to their teens and build positive relationships with their children. She urged parents to:
  • work at developing close, loving relationships with their teens
  • be clear about their own sexual values
  • discuss the consequences of teen pregnancy, abstinence and contraception with their teens
  • supervise and monitor their children's activities
  • discourage "early, frequent and steady dating"
  • help their children develop educational goals and other future priorities beyond sex
  • communicate the importance of education, and
  • be aware of what their children are seeing in the media

    (McGroarty, Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 9/5).

Reaction

"We find all the time … that parents can't just lecture and talk to kids about these issues. They have to develop communication and real relationships," Kristin Moore, president and senior scholar of Child Trends, a not-for-profit research organization, said.

Doug Kirby, senior research scientist at ETR Associates, a health education research institution, noted that the study does not instruct parents on what sexual values they should have or communicate to their children. "One of the most helpful findings in the … study is the realization that the issue is complex and not simple," he said. (Wood, Christian Science Monitor, 9/5)

James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, noted that the study found that discussing contraception with teens did not prompt teens to become sexually active sooner. He said that parent-teen communication can help teens delay the onset of sexual activity and increase the chances that teens will practice safe sex, thereby reducing the chances of STD infection. (Advocates for Youth release, 9/4)

Lawrence Finer, assistant director of research at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, expressed concern about teens who do not have close relationships with their parents, asking, "if the positive is parental involvement, then what about the kids who don't have that? To help them have safe and healthy lives, they're going to have to draw on other resources, and what will those be?" (Cummins, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/5)

Blum, R.W. (2002). Mothers' influence on teen sex: Connections that promote postponing sexual intercourse. Center for Adolescent Health and Development, University of Minnesota.



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©2002 The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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